Saturday, 2 June 2012

Singapore Harbour

May 23rd, 2012

Julian returned from his early  morning walk and we headed towards the harbour front stopping at one of the delightful Asian bakeries where he had discovered cheese boats. A hollow, thin flakey pastery with a solid block of cheddar cheese down the middle, topped with grated cheese and a sprinkling of sugar.  Not allowing myself such sinful treats I opted for a mango yogurt bubble tea and some eggs, beans and tofu on rice.  I had a taste of the cheese boat and decided it was definitely worth the calories and immediately regretted my decision. 

 Having taken the LRT to Harbour Front station we exited the underground rail system onto a pavement lined with labourers taking refuge from the hot sun during a break. Approaching the harbour front the heat was more than I could bare.  I was blinded by the early afternoon sun as it reflected off the calm waters and before me and the glass fronted skyscrapers of the city's financial district to our left.  

Despite the Singapore harbour being the busiest port in the world, there was only 3 water taxis present in this horseshoe shaped bay which forms the base upon which the city was built around; all sea traffic these days kept well out of sight.  With squinting eyes I stopped for a moment to take a closer look at the buildings surrounding me.  As my pupils dilated to accept the intense light I realized that I was standing among some of the most unique modern structures which more closely resembled works of art rather than a city centre.  A white stone statue of the Merlion, half lion and half fish; Singapores national symbol, stood about 300m distance directly opposite our entry point, spurting a stream of water from its mouth into the harbour.  It was the imposing building to the right which  is the main focal point. Built since Julians last visit in 2000, towering 57 stories above the harbour; 3 individual buildings gleamed in the sunlight.  Along the top, a boat like platform connected all three creating one structure.  The impressive feat of architecture only grew more stunning as we spent the day exploring it. 

First and most importantly in that instant however was my desperate need of air conditioning and a toilet.  I headed for the closest doors available which tuned out to be a shopping centre located along the entire length of the base of the hotel; the air con was frigid against my hot skin as I breathed a sigh of relief realizing that I had gone from -50 degrees in the sub arctic to the +33 degrees of the tropics in a matter of 3 weeks was harder to deal with than I expected. 

We walked its entire length passing exclusive restaurants, luxury clothing boutiques, high end jewellery stores with price tags far exceeding our meagre allowance. We walked along the shores of the pool that follows the length of the mall, with men in black little hats providing traghetti boat rides between an escalator connecting this mall to the main floor of the hotel complex and the Marina Bay LRT station. 

Upon setting foot on the hotel grounds, staff were available to open every door. The main floor of the hotel was enthusiastically furnished with multiple restaurants, bakeries, sweet shops, hair salons and jewellery shops.  Julian pointed out an exterior wall he had encountered during his morning foray, which seemed to be breathing and rippling with life.  Convinced of the impossibility of a living wall I followed him outside to closer inspect  the situation.  Pieces of aluminium 6" by 4" were individually pivoted at their top edges and from top to bottom along the full width of the wall, allowing the breeze to dictate the movement of the wall as it pulsed and flowed with the air currents before me.  We took a moment to appreciate the design as we sat down to have a snack - Julian having his cheese boat while I choose the far healthier option of a rye bun with cheese.  In that moment the sun shone directly on this living wall and the breeze stilled, turning the whole thing into a mirror reflecting an absurd amount of light and heat upon us.

Walking back into the hotel we learned that it was possible to stand upon the outdoor viewing platform 58 stories above the harbour.  Of course this came at a price but Julian, being the avid photographer  that he is, decided to buy tickets and sign up for the exclusive free tour of the pool and lounge area for hotel guests only at 9pm.   This would allow us to see the city from above as it comes alive with its evening lights. We were thoughtfully admonished later by a fellow traveller, that we might have gained access for a much lesser sum had we just headed to the terrace bar for a drink.

The heat of the afternoon grew less intense as early evening rolled in.  After having walked the entire length of the mall and hotel, approximately 1km, we were at the far end of the harbour and stood before a alien like white building resembling a lotus flower; the Science and Art Museum.  Walking back in the direction which we had come the boardwalk offered endless options for food and drinks.  There stood another impressive building on its own platform in the harbour, clad entirely in reflective metal. I was disappointed to find out that it was a one of a kind Louis Vuitton store.

Julian was far more ambitious that my aching feet cared for as we returned the entire stretch of the promenade outside the Mall, then turning the corner completed the other two sides as well.  Passing the financial district, which stood similarly to any other big city financial district, we passed more restaurants and shops.  An oyster bar, a martini bar, heaps of top end hotels and finally to the Merlion.  The boardwalk wrapped around the front of the Merlion as the spray from its mouth was almost refreshing and more of a tease.  The water looking most inviting Julian took some photographs as I leaned against the rail attempting to take some weight off my feet.

A young child greeted us; a local boy no older than 12 years old engaged in a conversation which lasted about half an hour.   Within that half an hour I was convinced he was the most intelligent 12 year old I have ever met.  He knew everything about Julians camera, geography and foreign currency.  We offered him a 50 pence piece and in return he offered a trade.  Out of his wallet his produced a crisp Chinese 1 Yuan note with Chairman Mao pictured on the front.  He then continued to mingle with the other tourists playing a guessing game of where each person hailed from. 

Evening was soon upon us.  With a long walk back to the opposite end of the harbour we took a break on an outdoor restaurant sofa directly in front of the huge hotel which we were about to summit and enjoyed a refreshing beverage.  As darkness fell music played, fountains roared and lights danced around the harbour providing a lightshow to those passing by. 

The city has a great energy to it; weather you like your posh, pretentious atmosphere or more laid back styles there is something to suit everyone.  Even if you don't have the money to dish out on exclusive service you can still mingle with the millionaire set and make like you belong. 

Back at the hotel, the elevator took us up 58 stories in about 20 seconds.  The doors opened fluidly as a guest service assistant greeted us with a smile and directed us to the observation deck. We approached the railing and peered down at the city now transformed in the night.  The lotus flower science museum had lights reaching up into the sky from its petals.  The financial district, hotel and restaurant lights flickered as a lazer light show danced on the otherwise calm and quite waters. 

Following the terrance around to the back of the building I finally laid my eyes upon the busiest harbour on the planet.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of boats were either coming, going or resting in the salt waters beyond.  I have never seen so many boats in one spot.
At 9pm a member of staff came to take the selected 20 people the private rooftop lounge.  A garden of palms and flowers lead way to an expansive rooftop patio of multiple hot tubs, bars and a restaurant.  The main feature is an endless pool which stretched across the entire length of the roof appearing to pour over the edges of the hotel 58 stories below.  The vibe up here resembled that of a cruise ship; It seems more than a little odd to find this world high in the night sky; a building, on a tropical island, pretending to be a ship, pretending to be a tropical island. I imagine people might easily spend their entire visit to Singapore in this very spot not leaving the hotel grounds at all.  

I was glad to be staying in Little India and personally feel travelling on a shoestring to much more fulfilling than the way I saw people living today. 

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